Friday 15 December 2017

Israel sparks outrage with fresh plans for 2,500 settlement homes

No limits: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
No limits: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Ori Lewis

Israel has announced controversial new plans for 2,500 more settlement homes in the occupied West Bank.

It is the second such declaration since US President Donald Trump took office signalling he would be less critical of such projects than his predecessor.

The defence ministry, which administers lands Israel captured in a 1967 war, said the move was meant to fulfil demand for new housing "to maintain regular daily life".

It claimed most of the construction would be in existing settlement blocs that Israel intends to keep under any future peace agreement with the Palestinians. However, a breakdown provided by the prime minister's office showed large portions of the planned homes would be outside existing blocs.

About 350,000 settlers live in the West Bank and a further 200,000 in East Jerusalem, which Israel seized in the 1967 Middle East war. Beyond the major blocs, most of which are close to the border with Israel, there are more than 100 settlement outposts scattered across hilltops in the West Bank.

Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, condemned the Israeli announcement and said it would have "consequences" in any peace talks.

"The decision will hinder any attempt to restore security and stability, it will reinforce extremism and terrorism and will place obstacles in the path of any effort to start a peace process that will lead to security and peace," he said.

They want the West Bank and Gaza Strip, from which Israeli troops and settlers withdrew in 2005, for an independent state, with its capital in East Jerusalem.

Most countries consider settlements illegal and an obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace because they reduce and fragment the territory Palestinians need for a viable state.

Israel disagrees, citing biblical, historical and political connections to the land - which the Palestinians also claim - as well as security interests.

During the US election campaign, Mr Trump indicated he would dispense with former president Barack Obama's opposition to settlement building, a stance that delighted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government.

On Sunday, two days after Mr Trump's inauguration, Israel announced plans for hundreds of new homes in East Jerusalem, and Mr Netanyahu told senior ministers he was lifting restrictions on settlement construction across the board.

"We can build where we want and as much as we want," an official quoted Mr Netanyahu as telling the ministers.

The prime minister's office yesterday listed some of the West Bank areas slated for new construction, but not all were in settlement blocs.

"I have agreed with the defence minister to build 2,500 new homes in Judea and Samaria (West Bank) - we are building and will continue to build," Mr Netanyahu said in a tweet. Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman is himself a settler.

The Defence Ministry statement said 100 of the new homes would be in Beit El, a settlement which according to Israeli media has received funding from the family of Mr Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Mr Trump has nominated David Friedman, a staunch supporter of settlers, as his ambassador to Israel.

Irish Independent

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